Cheeseboro Canyon is the prominent canyon on the left of the photo. The dirt road is the Cheeseboro Ridge Trail — a power line service road. The Sheep Corral Trail follows the flat-ish terrain in the little valley. It links the Cheeseboro Ridge Trail to the top of the Cheeseboro Canyon Trail about a quarter-mile to the west (right) at Shepherds’ Flat.
There are innumerable trail runs, hikes and rides that pass through here. Here’s a NPS map of the Cheeseboro/Palo Comado area trails (PDF). On this cool, mid-January day I was doing the Upper Las Virgenes Canyon – Cheeseboro Ridge Loop.
Originally posted January 7, 2016 and rewritten to reflect the current rainfall totals for Downtown Los Angeles.
Based on 1981-2010 climate normals Downtown Los Angeles (USC) receives, on average, 1.04 inches of rain in November, 2.33 inches of rain in December, and 3. 12 inches in January. This past November Los Angeles recorded only 0.01 inch of rain, and in December only 0.57 inch. January rainfall was a few hundredths above normal at 3.17 inches.
The 2015-16 El Nino is one of the three strongest El Ninos in the past 65 years; the other two were 1982-83 and 1997-98. How does the amount of rain we’ve had so far this rainfall year compare to the other two? Is this El Nino failing to produce the expected amount of rainfall in Los Angeles?
On January 7, when this post was originally written, the rain year totals were in the same ballpark for the date as during the 1982-83 and 1997-98 El Ninos. That is no longer the case, and Los Angeles rainfall totals are falling far behind those other big El Ninos.
As of January 31 Downtown Los Angeles (USC) has recorded only 6.97 inches of rain for this rain year, which is 0.47 inch below normal. At this point during the 1982-83 El Nino Los Angeles had already recorded 12.98 inches of rain, and in the 1997-98 El Nino 9.15 inches.
The good news is that the Sierra snowpack is above average. That helps with the water supply, but not so much with naturally-occurring local groundwater and other drought impacts in Southern California. It does help that the Los Angeles rain year total is nearly normal, but I’m still waiting to see running water in upper Las Virgenes Creek.
Remarkably, as of this morning, the medium range models are forecasting dry weather to predominate over the next 10 days or so and both the GFS and ECMWF show a mega-ridge of high pressure developing over the West Coast this weekend. We’ll see!
For the most part the upper layer of clouds had been above Boney Mountain. Thin wisps of cloud had clung to the ridges in a couple of places, but the ceiling looked like it was going to remain above the peak.
Fog changes the mood and character of a place, particularly a place where airy views and an expansive mindset are the norm. Thoughts turn inward and perceptions more narrowly focused. The big picture becomes entirely virtual.
Earlier in the week the area had been drenched by more than two inches of rain. It had been damp overnight and water filled the profusion of irregular pockets covering the volcanic rock. The rock was plastered with a patchwork of bright green moss and gray-green lichen. Saturated with water, the moss was slippery as ice. I climbed with extra care, especially on the steeper sections.
Where soil collected on tiered steps, obovate leaves of shooting-star and other annuals sprouted, presaging a show of the purple and yellow wildflowers. Chalk liveforever relished the moisture, its drought-scarred leaves rehydrating and recovering.
Higher on the ridge the intricate green foliage of red shanks, still recovering from the 2013 Springs Fire, was heavily-beaded with water. Brushing against it was like being sprayed with ice-cold water.
The last couple of days I’d been checking the weather models to try and get an idea of when the cold front might reach Pt. Mugu State Park. Projections ranged from around 10:00 AM to about 1:00 PM.
A group of us were doing an annual end of the year trail run and scramble over Boney Mountain to the Backbone Trail, and then returning by various routes to the Wendy Drive trailhead. Along the way there are great views of the Boney Mountain Wilderness, Channel Islands, Conejo Valley and Ventura Mountains, but you can’t see very far from inside of a cloud.
It turned out clouds would not be a problem. At least not the first half of the day. When I pulled into the parking area at Wendy Drive the front was little more than a white smudge on the western horizon. The sky was clear and it remained clear the entire time we worked up Boney’s Western Ridge. Everyone enjoyed scrambling up the gullies and rocks to the top of the mountain and then over to Tri Peaks.
We’d reached Tri Peaks about 40 minutes ago. From there I’d run over to Sandstone Peak, the highest peak in the Santa Monica Mountains. From this panoramic vantage point I could see the front was still well to the west, near Santa Barbara. This gave me some time. I was prepared for rain, but didn’t want to miss the wonderful scenery running down the Chamberlain Trail, over to Serrano Valley, and through Serrano Canyon.
Over the remainder of the run I watched as cirrus clouds ahead of the front gradually muted the sun, mid-level clouds began to develop over the peaks, and the wind became more gusty and fitful. Later in the run the clouds started to lower and thicken and the temperature dropped. Eventually it began to smell like rain.
As I crested the hill on Danielson Road I felt a cold drop of rain on my arm and then another on the back of a leg. Clouds covered the sky, and to the west showers draped the ridges and filled the canyons. The front and I were racing the last mile to the trailhead, and I knew who had won.
This morning’s run had started on the southern boundary of the Arroyo Conejo Open Space near Amgen in Thousand Oaks. It was 39°F at the beginning of the run and the chill of dawn and brisk north wind made it feel even colder. The plan was to run north on the Arroyo Conejo Trail and connect to the trails in Wildwood Park.
Running on automatic, and hoping to warm up quickly, I followed the Arroyo Conejo Trail north along the shoulder of the canyon. Known as “La Barranca” the three mile long canyon extends from the 101 Freeway to Hill Canyon near Santa Rosa Road. Rounding a corner and working up and over a little hill I looked to my right and was astonished to see that in this section of the canyon a deep, vertical-walled gorge had been cut into the residential landscape.
The wildness of the gorge set the tone for the remainder of the run. Arroyo Conejo, Wildwood Park and the Western Plateau have a scenic, desert southwest character all their own and an extensive trail system. If a bluff, peak or other feature looked interesting, there was generally a way to get to it. I ran along Stagecoach Bluff, then to Lizard Head, and then over to the Canyon Overlook Trail and down to the Conejo Canyons Bridge at the Hill Canyon trailhead.
After running up Hill Canyon, I was once again headed uphill, this time on the Western Plateau Trail. I’d caught a glimpse of some mountain bikers high on the bluff above and couldn’t resist continuing. I had more than 10 miles in and was planning to go back through Wildwood Park. Each mile added now would add two miles to my growing round trip total.
That’s the difficult thing about doing an exploratory run — deciding where to turn around. You HAVE to see what’s around each corner and what the view is like from the top of every hill. You can’t turn around just anywhere, and I was looking for the right place.
Turning onto the Outlaw/Gnome Trail, in a few minutes I reached the top of the rock outcrop where I’d seen the mountain bikers. But it wasn’t the top of the climb, and it definitely wasn’t the right spot to turn around. A bit higher I could see a sign silhouetted on the skyline and was curious to see what it said.
The sign read “Elliot Mountain Trail.” How could I turn around now? Continuing east, a newly cut trail with a bench en route led to the top of the peak. Recently named in honor of Burt Elliot, “a tireless volunteer, open space advocate and champion of trails,” the peak was the perfect place to spend a few minutes enjoying the great view and then start my circuitous trip back to the car.
If you are a late afternoon runner and live in the Los Angeles area (or similar latitude), beginning December 11 the sunset time computed by the U.S. Naval Observatory increases from 4:44 PST to 4:45 PST. By the end of December sunset will be about 10 minutes later than today. It isn’t until July 5, 2016 that the computed sunset time begins to decrease.